Portioned meat prepared for processing in a restaurant or hotel kitchen

Meat, poultry, and seafood are staple sources of protein in most American diets. As protein options proliferate, keeping up with consumer preferences becomes ever more crucial for this sector of the food industry.

Here are some of the biggest trends to keep an eye on, based on stats from the National Provisioner's recent research roundup, a global meat consumption study by Euromonitor, and Progressive Grocer's annual Retail Seafood Report.

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from

Transparency in sourcing is top-of-mind for consumers, especially when it comes to protein. This is particularly true for Millennial and Gen X consumers.

  • Almost 70% of consumers want their red meat to come from certified humanely-raised animals.
  • 68% of want to know where their poultry comes from, and 62% want to know how their poultry was raised.

Healthier and more exotic meat is on the menu

As we've seen in other food industry sectors, consumers are opting for both healthier and more exotic foods.

  • Last year saw beef and veal sales decline by 3% in the United States, while pork and poultry sales grew 5%. This trend is expected to continue through 2019.
  • Sales of organic, natural, free-range, antibiotic-free, and GMO-free meats and seafood are on the rise.
  • And more exotic red meats (such as lamb, goat, and bison) and poultry products (like duck and quail) are making their way onto more American dinner plates.

Consumers are willing to pay more for premium quality

As the National Provisioner report notes, food is more and more being seen as a craft, rather than a commodity. And consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality.

  • Mintel research shows that more than half of consumers would pay more for premium ingredients at quick-service restaurants, and almost 70% would pay extra for premium toppings at fast-casual restaurants.
  • In the seafood sector, many shoppers — particularly Millennials — are willing to pay more for fresh, sustainable products.  

Implications for Food Processors

As in other sectors, food processors in meat, poultry, and seafood will need to focus on healthiness and transparency if they want to keep up with consumer demands. Humanely-raised and fresh, wild-caught products continue to be large areas of growth. The demand for higher quality and more exotic products might also prompt processors to look at expanding product lines or creating craft products.

Overall, a focus on local, sustainable, and premium protein products may best cater to consumer preferences, especially for processors looking to appeal to younger buyers.